Making time for GPs through digital health

The NHS Alliance and Primary Care Foundation published the report Making Time in General Practice earlier this week, headlining with the notion that 1 in 6 GP appointments could be avoided by patients seeing someone in the wider primary care team or being supported to self manage their own needs.

This is a pretty significant figure and there’s no doubt this could apply to matters of sexual health. Earlier this year we talked to young people who make appointments to see their GP around sexual health matters, rather than go to a dedicated sexual health clinic.

We’ve made some good progress in promoting self management of sexual health in Southwark and Lambeth. We’ve worked with the local NHS Clinical Commissioning groups who’ve actively promoted us among their GP networks. This has led to a marvellous 35 surgeries across Lambeth and Southwark including a link to the SH:24 website on their own websites. This prompted 487 visits directly from these sites, converting to over 80 orders. (Note from ed: figure as of Nov 15 is 118 orders)

Clapham Park Health Centre GP Rebecca Farrell told us “I think your service is fantastic and want to promote it more through posters and leaflets” (thank you, thank you!)

This raises an important point that some practice visitors won’t find us through their GP’s website; we know there are even more people who have found out about us from leaflets and posters in surgeries (it’s a bit harder to tell how many). How can GP practices further promote self-management of sexual health and indeed, other health issues? It’s good to remember that while technology can definitely improve access to services, not everyone can access this technology. The Tinder Foundation estimates 10.5m people still lack basic digital skills. If we can help people by putting the means to access digital healthcare somewhere they regularly access healthcare this could be a good first step to help them to see how quick and easy it can be. We are about to run a trial with local sexual health clinics where people can use tablets in the reception area to order a test directly - we’ll be able to give stats to clinics and other health decision makers about how successful this is - helping make the case for it in other settings.

Another important aspect of self-management is not just the means for people to self-test, but also get high-quality information that’s been designed with the involvement of the people who will use it. It’s our hope that our new information pages will not only help avoid unnecessary GP visits but give people the means to have more informed, productive conversations with health professionals when they do see them. Sometimes though, people will still need the assurance of speaking with a primary care worker - to address this we are also creating a web-chat function that will be led by an NHS qualified sexual health nurse who can give people rapid, factual, advice and support. This will further support GPs and other primary care professionals, so they can focus on more complex cases.  

The NHS Alliance and Primary Care Foundation report is right - there are opportunities to reduce GP appointments. We’ll continue work collaboratively with GPs and healthcare professionals in the areas we serve to make sure our services are both right for, and accessible to, the people who need them.

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